Family Blessing
K Hanna Korossy

For all the things Sam had witnessed in his life, all the toughness he'd been cultivating since even before his big brother went to Hell and back, Dean was still glad he didn't have to see this.

Light filtered in through the broken stained glass window above him, weakly illuminating the crypt Dean stood in. It was enough to see every horrifying detail of Adam's—his youngest brother's—mutilated remains.

Ghouls usually left little behind of their meals, gnawing bodies down to the marrow of their bones. The fact that Adam and his mom were still so intact just underlined how much these kills had been about revenge instead of hunger. The ghouls had had a whole graveyard of unresisting victims to choose from, but no. They'd wanted to go after those who'd helped John Winchester hunt one of their kind down.

And his sons. All three of them.

Dean sighed, crouching next to the corpse of Adam Milligan. "Hey. It's, uh, me. Dean." Your brother just didn't want to roll of his tongue. "John's boy." He shifted. "I wasn't exactly crazy to find out about you, but still. I'm sorry, man. I wish I'd been here, gotten to know you. You seem like a good…" He cleared his throat, shook his head. "Right, like you're gonna hear or care about any of this." Breathing out, he carefully felt Adam's pockets.

The wallet was thin, the kid's life just starting: a driver's license and credit card, a video store card and—Dean snorted—two library cards, a picture of Adam with his mom, and a school ID. Dean lingered over the last. Sam had had one, too. Dean had seen it in the box of fake IDs until sometime around when Dad died, when it had disappeared for good. Another Winchester school career biting the dust.

He tucked the wallet into his pocket, then surveyed the body again.

Besides the kid being pretty much eviscerated, he was still in pretty good shape. The ghouls must've gotten to him right before calling Sam and Dean. Or maybe that had been Adam really calling, just not Adam by the time they came to town. Or, crap, the ghoul could've even killed and replaced him between the guys finding Mrs. Milligan's leftovers in the air shaft and "Adam" showing up in their room. They probably never would know for sure if any of that had been their real brother. But he was definitely a fresh kill, and it looked like the ghouls had mauled him just enough to kill him while he watched in agony.

Dean shut his eyes. Been there, done that, had the nightmares to prove it. It was an incredibly nasty way to go, and why, just because he was John Winchester's son?

Dean sighed. "Welcome to the family, kid," and got to work.

He had to wrap the body first, because there was no way he was dragging Adam out of there with his guts trailing. Dean had brought a tarp with him, and as he gingerly rolled the corpse first to one side, then the other to slip the canvas under him, he held his breath and tried not to think about what he was doing.

He'd had to wrap Sam's arms the night before, too. Despite his brother having tried to press them together to slow the bleeding, the cloth napkins had been saturated and Sam chalky and swaying by the time Dean returned to his side. The fact he'd dropped his forehead onto his big brother's shoulder as soon as Dean was close enough had told him just how lousy Sam was feeling. His brother rarely showed much weakness or affection those days.

"Got the guns—we can't clean up all the blood," Dean said as he added a second layer of cloth napkins to the ones on Sam's forearms, trying to tie them off enough to provide needed pressure.

Sam nodded exhaustedly against him, still panting from the pain. "Said…Adam's dead."

Dean barely paused. "Yeah, I know. I found him." He was starting to feel dampness against his side and pulled back just enough to peer between them without taking away Sam's support. His stomach twisted sickly at the sight of the bloody hole in Sam's shirt. "Dude, I think we're gonna need some professional help with this one." It was obvious the slices on Sam's arm weren't into the artery—the ghouls had wanted to prolong his death, enjoy it—but the cuts were still deep into muscle, and both the blood-splattered bowls on either side of the table and the way Sam shivered and tilted against him told Dean he was a couple quarts low. "You ready?"

In answer, Sam just shuffled his legs off the side of the table, then tried to push himself to his feet.

Yeah, right. Dean barely managed to catch him before he crumpled to the floor. "Just take it slow, okay? I'll do the rest."

Sam breathed through his nose, body shaking as Dean navigated him around ghoul remains. He'd kept his eyes averted, but Dean looked at them carefully, making sure one more time they were both toast. Assuming no one had heard the shotgun blasts—and the lack of sirens and a half-dozen police cars out front was a good sign of that—he could come back later to clean up a little more. Probably should just burn the place down to get rid of all traces of Sam's blood, but then no one might ever find out what had happened to Adam. The kid's friends deserved to know.

As Sam had faltered at the door, Dean just clutched tighter in his jacket. "Few more steps, Sammy. Then we'll get you cleaned up and on some of the good stuff. You'll be okay."

Sam stopped, trying to focus glassy eyes on him. "Jus'…don't let them lock me up, Dean. Looks…looks like self-infii…self-insect…" He humphed in frustration.

Dean raised an eyebrow, too tired for any serious attempt at mockery. Both of them had nightmarish memories of restraints and well-meaning doctors. "No psych ward, I know," he just soothed. "I promise."

Sam had passed out halfway to the hospital despite Dean's attempts to keep him alert, and a day later, Dean still hadn't had a chance to clean the blood off the front seat.

The worst of Adam's wounds covered now by the tarp, Dean worked his way up the corpse to the face. He recognized traces of the family resemblance now: something about the eyes, the curve of his mouth. His wry grin, no doubt faithfully reproduced by the ghoul, had reminded Dean of their dad, and Adam's walk had brought back dim memories of Grandpa Winchester long before Dean's mind was willing to admit the truth. The kid had needed a haircut, clearly taking after his floppy-haired geekazoid brother in that one. The only thing Dean had seen of himself had been Adam's determination to help his mom. Even if that had just been the ghoul mimicking Winchester genes, Dean recognized and related to that. He might've been able to teach the kid a thing or two about taking care of family, if he'd had the chance.

Instead, Adam's face was etched with the terror he'd died in. A look of disbelief, of fear and unanswered need. And Dean realized with a jolt that he recognized that, too. On a different brother.

He'd stormed into the house ready to shoot everything in his path, prepared for the worst. The sight of Sam tied out on the dining room table, arms painted and dripping blood, had still made him stutter a second.

It wasn't the approaching ghouls that got him moving on, nor the rush of vengeance with which he'd flown back to the house. Definitely wasn't self-preservation or even hunting instinct. It was Sam's expression when he'd turned to see Dean, his face full of the same helpless fear Dean had been fighting to keep from his features for twenty-five years. Horror mixed with panic.

And then, when he saw Dean, a moment of profound relief and gratitude. It wasn't something he saw on Sam very often those days.

He wished he'd had the chance to see Adam's fear melt like that.

Grimly, Dean eased the tarp under the kid's head and started to fold it over. Then paused again. The kid's eyes were still open, staring in sightless horror.

Dean blinked, chewing on his lip. The eyes had long since clouded over in death, but there was still a soft tint of green to them. When they'd first met "Adam," his eyes had looked blue, another mark in Dean's book against Winchester blood. In the thin light of the crypt, though, or maybe in death, they reflected the hazel variability Dean and Sam had inherited from their dad. Dean couldn't help wonder if the kid's eyes had turned deep blue-green like his did when he was excited, or washed out to soft murky camouflage green and brown like Sam's when he was tired.

Dean hadn't been able to meet those eyes in the hospital when Sam had finally woken up, sick with blood loss and the horror he'd endured, anguished at the death of the brother they hadn't known. Sammy had been the one to bond with the kid, the one whose eyes had lit up at the thought of getting to be a big brother, softened at the sight of Adam's pain, and flashed at Dean's insistence they leave him out of their life. Dean had held the basin as Sam's stomach had rebelled at the trauma of the blood transfusions, told him quietly what he'd found back at the crypt, and sat with him until Sam's mind cleared enough to fall into restful sleep, but he'd never once looked his brother in the eye.

He didn't want to see the lack of innocence there, the anger and guilt and even guile that had been absent in Adam's clear eyes. He didn't want the reminder and the traitorous twist of his gut that maybe he'd failed two brothers instead of one.

Exhaling sharply, Dean slid Adam's eyes shut with one hand and pulled the tarp over the lax face.

He was a little too experienced at wrapping up a corpse. Another few minutes, and Adam was an impersonal bundle instead of a body, indistinguishable from a hundred others Dean had hauled, burned, buried, killed. Dean tried not to think of his father as he knotted rope around the heavy form.

He'd debated going back to the crypt through the mausoleum, pulling out the stone that hid the ghouls' original entryway. But the tight passage had filled with dirt after Dean had last used it, and he didn't feel like digging out or, worse, trying to manhandle a body through the narrow tunnel. He went back out instead the way he'd come, climbing the rope that hung through the shattered glass ceiling of the crypt. He braced himself topside, then towed Adam's body up after, using a nearby tree for a pulley.

"Sorry, you probably thought you were done down there, huh?" he murmured as he untied and wound up the rope, the tarp-wrapped figure at his feet. "I don't exactly make it a habit of hauling stiffs out of crypts and burning them, either. But…" He dropped into a crouch beside the body, his hand resting a moment on the head. "We take care of family. Even if it's too late. And I'm sorry about that, Adam, I am. I wish we'd known about you sooner, kid. I just hope…" Dean rubbed his jaw and leaned forward to sit the body up. "So, one last trip, okay?" He eased the corpse over his shoulder and, grunting, pushed to his feet.

The Impala was parked at the cemetery's edge, not far, but Dean went slow, eyes scanning for any witnesses. Half of Windom's police force would probably be at the Milligan house by now, investigating a double murder that included a woman already believed dead. That should keep them busy enough until the Winchesters got out of town.

Adam lay heavily over a shoulder that still ached from the fight the night before, and Dean shifted his burden a little. He'd had to practically carry Sam out to the car the night before, too, his little brother weak and confused with blood loss. Dean had taken advantage of the quiet to work out a cover story: with so many parallel slashes on Sam's arms, it didn't look like a suicide-attempt, but Dean wasn't going to take the chance. The restraint marks at wrists and ankles spoke of another party's involvement, and unless they wanted to get the police interested, that meant a highly embarrassing story of mutual consent gone wrong. Sam would be mortified, but excuses like that at least shut everyone up. Besides, the pamphlets they always gave him and Sam in these cases about "STDs and You" and "When It's Not Love Anymore" were hilarious.

Sam had stumbled when they got to the porch stairs. "Feel sick," he'd groaned.

"I know. You're running half-empty, dude." Dean had pressed Sam tighter to his chest, at least trying to ease the shivering. Sam's hair was shoved up his nose, he stank of sweat and fear, and Dean was so grateful for him.

"Said they liked…fresh meat more. Eat alive…" Sam was starting to sound distant, disconnected.

Dean winced. He didn't know if Sam was talking about himself, or Adam and his mom, and was just as happy staying ignorant. "Nobody's getting eaten, man. Just keep moving, okay? We gotta get out of here and get you topped off."

"…said you weren't coming," Sam mumbled dizzily into his shirt.

And the night just kept getting better. "Shows how much they know about Winchesters," Dean argued back. "Shut up now, Sammy."

"I liked him," Sam whispered, tripping again. His bloody forearms left splotches on Dean's wrists and palms, and he barely hissed a breath when his knees went out from under him once more.

Dean stopped, wearily glanced around, then let Sam tip unceremoniously over his shoulder, arms dangling in front instead of his legs. Dean grasped them gently above the elbows and picked up his pace to the car, now only a dozen feet away. "Yeah. Me, too," he said gruffly to himself.

Adam was lighter, and he swayed in Dean's grip with the looseness of the dead. If rigor had already come and gone, then they probably had never met the real Adam. Maybe talked to him on the phone, but Adam Milligan had been dead before the Winchesters had even set foot in Windom.

Dean wasn't sure if that made it easier or harder. He was trying hard not to think about any of this at all, and still failing.

The Impala finally came into view. Dean flickered a grim smile at the sight of the shaggy head in the front seat. Sam had insisted on coming along instead of letting Dean take him back to the motel room first, even if he could barely walk a straight line on his own, let alone help collect a corpse. But he said he'd be okay, even swore he wouldn't fall asleep. Dean's smile deepened into honest affection as he saw the dark head dip, catch itself, only to dip again. Sam was fighting hard against it, but he'd kept his word.

He'd been waiting the same way at the hospital for Dean's return that morning, looking sleepy and a little disoriented but determinedly awake. Dean had spent the night there, making sure Sam's vitals stayed good and that he knew he wasn't alone, but only letting himself touch when he was sure Sam was asleep. It had been early morning when Dean had finally left to check out a couple of things at the Milligan house before the cops got to it. Every picture, some unexpected letters he found, any sign of their dad was a pile of ashes now in the bottom of the backyard grill.

Sam had slept uneasily the night before, arms aching despite the drugs, his side twinging where those sons of bitches had poked a hole in him. He'd muttered about Dad and ghouls and brothers, and for once, Dean didn't know which one he meant. But he'd still been able to calm the kid with a hand on his forehead just as he'd always been able to, and that had warmed something in him. Something that had been left cold and hollow at the thought of no one being around to do the same for Adam.

Dean opened the car's back door, seeing Sam jump a little, then twist to look back. His eyes were bruised, haunted.

"That's him?"

"That's him," Dean confirmed, sliding Adam in as gently as if the kid could still feel it. He had to bend the long legs up to fit on the seat; Adam had been almost his height. He really would have been Dean's little brother.

Sam breathed out low and shaky. "What now?"

"Found a place up the road, quiet, out of the way. We can build a fire there."

Sam nodded tightly, eyes still on the tarp-wrapped figure. "I wanna see him."

"No, you don't." Dean tilted his head up to glimpse the rebellion already forming in Sam's face. He softened. "Sammy, trust me. You don't." He slid his hand into his jacket and pulled out Adam's wallet, tossing it over the seat into Sam's lap. "Remember him that way."

The fire died down in hazel eyes that were one of the few things Dean ever thought he and Sam shared. Besides a family history that rivaled Job's and a deep appreciation for good barbeque. Sam finally nodded, long fingers already traveling over the leather of the wallet.

He wasn't done; Dean knew Sam would argue some more before they finally torched Adam's remains. It wasn't in him to give up on family any more than it was in any Winchester. Dean would've agreed with him once, but now…

Was it really terrible that he couldn't help be grateful that if he had to lose a brother, it had been Adam instead of Sam? Because for all the déjà vu of carefully holding and hauling a body, the gaping hole Dean had been expecting to feel, the unbearable agony of clasping a dying Sam in his arms back in Cold Oak, had never manifested. There'd barely been more than a whisper of regret.

Dad and Sam thought losing your loved ones was the worst hell you could face, worth sacrificing everything for, and Dean had agreed with them once. But he'd seen the real deal now, and he knew the truth: it was losing your soul that was the truest torment. Adam, for his horrific death, had gone out an innocent, free. Sam had once, too, until Dean had dragged him back and then left him on his own. Dean was determined not to make that same mistake again, though, nor to let Sam do so. He hadn't been able to save one little brother's life, but he was damned if he'd let the other one down, too.

Sam's arms lay limp in his lap as Dean slid in behind the steering wheel. He knew how much any movement hurt the injuries, so his eyebrow rose in surprise as Sam reached over and loosely grasped his arm.

"He didn't have anyone, Dean."

Dean stared at him a moment, wishing he could read Sam like he'd once been able to. He always saw the guilt, the determination, the anger, but also so many secrets. This time, however, he was surprised to witness something else in his brother's dark hazel: a silent plea.

Maybe they were more alike than Dean had dared think.

"Yeah," he quietly acknowledged. Adam hadn't had anyone.

And Dean had to believe that made all the difference.

The End